Jethmalani Challenges U.S. to Do More for India
HOUSTON, September 24, 2013 — Ram Jethmalani—lawyer, politician, and one of India’s most outspoken nonagenarians—attacked U.S. support for Pakistan and endorsed controversial Gujarat State Chief Minister Narendra Modi’s candidacy to become India’s next prime minister during an appearance at Asia Society Texas Center.
Interviewed onstage by Charles C. Foster, Chair of the Texas Center and a noted Houston attorney, Jethmalani offered a series of toughly worded assessments.
He said he found President Obama’s attitude toward Pakistan “absolutely incomprehensible.”
“I can’t understand how you are spending billions of dollars on a failed state like Pakistan," he said, later suggesting that the U.S. endangered relations with India by not taking a harder line on its Muslim neighbor. He also said a proposal he had made to former Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf—and accepted by him—on Kashmir would have eased tensions between the rivaling nations. Though, it wasn’t clear what transpired with Jethmalani’s initiative.
He was equally uncompromising in his support for Modi, whom the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), India’s largest opposition party, recently named as its candidate for prime minister in next spring’s national elections. He brushed aside accusations that Modi failed to suppress communal riots 2002 in Gujarat that led to more than 2,000 Muslim deaths. He indicated that Pakistani agents, intent on blackening India’s reputation, may have been behind the bloodshed.
“I am absolutely convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that Mr. Modi was not responsible for anything that happened to the [Muslim] minority,” Jethmalani said.
He added, “The people of India have made up their mind that Modi is the solution to India’s ills. I have no doubt that he will succeed in the elections.”
Jethmalani’s support comes despite the fact that in May the BJP expelled him from the party after he criticized its leadership. He remains an independent member of India’s upper house of Parliament. He has served as Minister of Urban Development and Minister of Law and Justice in previous governments.
Besides practicing politics, Jethmalani is a celebrated if controversial lawyer, focusing on high-profile criminal and constitutional cases. In the mid-1970s he vigorously attacked Indira Gandhi for suspending portions of the constitution, fleeing the country for several months after an arrest warrant was issued for him.
On other topics Jethmalani criticized China for its continued occupation of land it seized in its 1962 war with India. He also seemed to suggest that China and the United States are responsible for Pakistan becoming a nuclear power.
“Today we are in a very uncomfortable position with China, however much we want to make friends with them.”
He also said he does not expect Rahul Gandhi, scion of the Nehru/Gandhi political dynasty and putative head of the Indian National Congress, to seek the prime minister post.
“He’s a very unwilling chap,” Jethmalani said. “He doesn’t want to become a prime minister. His mother [Sonia Gandhi] wants him to become a prime minister.”
Reported by Fritz Lanham